About this Recording
8.573339 - VIEUXTEMPS, H.: Violin Solo Works - 6 Morceaux / La Chasse (version for violin solo) / Etudes, Opp. 16 and 48 (Kuppel)
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Henry Vieuxtemps (1820–1881)
Works for Solo Violin

 

Henry Vieuxtemps, son of a weaver and violin-maker, was born in Verviers, near Liege, Belgium on 17 February 1820. He had his first violin lessons with his father at the age of four, and his talent was immediately evident. With the support of a local aristocrat he was able to study with a professional violinist, Lecloux-Dejonc. Charles de Bériot, a leading violin virtuoso of the time, heard him play in 1828 and invited him to study in Brussels, and when Bériot moved to Paris in 1828–1829 Vieuxtemps accompanied him, making his Paris début in February 1829. During an 1830 tour of Germany and Austria he met the violinist/composer Louis Spohr and heard Beethoven’s Fidelio—both seminal experiences for the young musician. In March 1834 he performed Beethoven’s Violin Concerto at the Vienna Musikverein, only the second time the concerto had been performed publicly since Beethoven’s death. After hearing the fourteen-year-old violinist, Schumann wrote in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik that Vieuxtemps “holds us in a kind of magic circle that encloses us …” In 1834 Vieuxtemps heard Nicolo Paganini play in London and wrote how his admiration increased to the borders of the improbable, and no doubt the tremendous technique in Vieuxtemps’ work is partly due to the influence of Paganini. Briefly a composition student of Anton Reicha, Vieuxtemps composed the first of his seven violin concertos (Concerto in F sharp minor, published as No. 2) in 1834. After touring Belgium and Germany in 1836-1837, he extended his tour to Russia in spring 1837, performing often in St Petersburg. He returned to Russia in 1839 with his fellow-countryman, the cellist François Servais. In Russia he completed the Concerto No. 1 in E major, which was much praised by Wagner, Chopin, and Berlioz. In the winter of 1842–1843 Vieuxtemps made his first tour of the United States, and while in America composed Souvenir d’Amérique, Op. 17. In 1844 he married the Viennese pianist Josephine Eder, and two years later accepted the post of court violinist in St Petersburg. Though bound to the Russian court by a six-year contract, he was allowed to concertize during his annual holiday and continued to travel across Europe during this Russian period. While in Russia, he gave the premiere of one of his best-known concertos (Concerto No. 4 in D minor) and formed a string quartet that performed, among other works, Beethoven’s last quartets. Leaving Russia in 1852, Vieuxtemps first settled in Brussels for two years before moving to Dreieichenhain, a town near Frankfurt-am-Main, and this remained his base for over a decade. During his second (1857) American tour, he performed 75 times in less than three months—a gruelling schedule Vieuxtemps later called a “crime against music”. Nevertheless he kept up a rigorous concert schedule, performing often in Paris, London, Russia (again), Stockholm and numerous other places. Because of an increasingly difficult political situation, he left his home near Frankfurt in 1866 and settled in Paris. His wife died of cholera in 1868, but he hardly paused in his intense concert schedule. He embarked on his third tour of the United States in 1870, influenced to accept another American tour in part by the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, and during this tour played 121 concerts in half a year. In 1871, after having twice before refused formal teaching positions, Vieuxtemps finally accepted a post at the Brussels Conservatoire, where his most famous pupils were Eugene Ysaÿe and Jenő Hubay. In September 1873, while in France for a charity concert to help casualties of the Franco-Prussian War, he suffered a stroke and lost the use of his right arm and moved to Paris to live with his daughter and son-in-law, gradually returning to composing and even playing (though not publicly). After an abortive attempt to return to his classes at the Conservatoire, he moved to the Mustafa Supérieur quarter of Algiers. The violinist Wilma Normand-Neruda (the dedicatee of his Sixth Concerto) and his old student Hubay visited him there, and he composed until the end. In June 1881 he suffered his fourth stroke and died on 6 June.

Vieuxtemps was one of a long line of master nineteenth-century violinist-composers, a line that stretches from Viotti, Rode, Bériot, and Paganini in the early years of the century to Wieniawski, Kreisler and Ysaÿe at the end. Vieuxtemps was a towering figure among these violinist-composers, and was one of the first to use the full romantic orchestral palette in the composition of concerti and other orchestrated works with soloist. Though best known today for his seven violin concertos (praised in their time by both Berlioz and Tchaikovsky), Vieuxtemps wrote numerous works, among them paraphrases on opera tunes, miscellaneous salon pieces, string quartets, a violin sonata, and a viola sonata. His compositions require the virtuoso’s full arsenal of technique: every sort of off-the-string bowing, double and triple-stops, harmonics, lightning speed, and a pure singing tone. As represented by this programme, Vieuxtemps also wrote numerous works for violin alone.

The 36 Etudes for Violin Solo, Op. 48, were dedicated to the Paris Conservatoire. These études are mentioned by Vieuxtemps in an 1880 letter: “In order to rest I have just begun a collection of violin études which promise as before to set aside those of Kreutzer and Rode, so fresh in our memory. Mine will make not only skilled instrumentalists, adroit acrobats, but musicians”. This present recording offers six of these études. First is No. 6, marked Allegretto moderato, with the descriptive title ʻErzählung’ (ʻStory’ or ʻTale’). In 6/8 time, this étude proceeds in dotted rhythm, eventually adding double-stops and building to a climax before ending simply and quietly. Etude No. 7 ʻQual’ (ʻTorment’ or ʻAnguish’) is marked Agitato and alternates between furious sixteenth notes (semiquavers) and dramatic dotted sections. Etude No. 25 is a lively tarantella, while Etude No. 27 is a study in continuous fast sixteenth notes until the final three chords. The 6/8 Etude No. 28, marked Moderato, is a florid, heavily double-stopped piece. The final selection, Etude No. 32, is a theme and four variations based on a well-known gavotte of Corelli.

The Six Morceaux for Violin Solo, Op. 55, are the fruit of the final phase of Vieuxtemps’ career and were published posthumously. In his book on Vieuxtemps, Lev Ginsburg writes that these pieces are of particular interest, especially as representative of Vieuxtemps’ homage to Bach. All display a polyphonic style and contain numerous double-stops and chords. No. 1 (Andante) echoes the opening Adagio from Bach’s third unaccompanied violin sonata. The second, marked Moderato, is replete with double-stops and chords. The third, Prélude, was dedicated to the violinist Léon Reynier (1833–1895), while the fourth features dance music in the same vein as Bach’s solo partitas (Minuetto and Trio). No. 5 is a lovely Andante in 6/8 time and No. 6 is an Introduction (Adagio cantabile) and Fugue (Moderato assai), and displays the influence of the first two movements (Adagio and Fugue) of Bach’s first unaccompanied violin sonata.

In La Chasse (The Hunt), Vieuxtemps uses scordatura tuning (in this case the G string is tuned to B flat). The first section is marked Moderato and is in 3/4 time; after a cadenza ending with artificial harmonics a 6/8 Allegro gallops to the end. The piece features thirds, sixths, octaves, and trills.

Written about 1845, the Six Concert Etudes, Op. 16, represent Vieuxtemps’ first effort at composing for solo violin. Etude No. 1 is in 12/8 time and features trills, double-stops, and a section of bariolage, coming at last to a quiet end. Etude No. 2, in 6/8 time and marked Moderato and Grazioso, employs artificial harmonics, and ends in a flurry of thirty-second notes (demisemiquavers). Etude No. 3, in 3/8 time and marked Allegretto, begins with doublestopping and features artificial harmonics. Etude No. 4, marked Allegro ma non troppo, is a study in long legato lines with double stopping in the intense midsection. The Adagio ma non troppo, Etude No. 5, tests the soloist’s ability to present a singing line—the piece begins with two tied whole notes (breves) played fortissimo on the lowest note of the violin. Eventually the violin reaches higher and faster ground before dying away pianissimo high on the E string. Etude No. 6 begins Adagio in common time; this gives way to a jaunty Allegretto in 2/4 time featuring alternating eighth notes (quavers) and sixteenth (semiquaver) triplets. A più lento section is played con molto espressione before the return of the main theme.

Bruce R. Schueneman


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